What’s your visual storytelling strategy? Do you have one? In my recently published Search Engine Land column, I discuss why businesses need to embrace visual storytelling more seriously to build their brands locally. Chances are that your customers communicate with you and each other using GIFs, emoji, video, and pictures. Granted, some customer segments are more visually oriented than others. But images have become as much as part of our common communication vocabulary as the written word. The question for businesses with brick-and-mortar locations is not whether they will employ visual storytelling tactics but how. My new column, “Why location marketers need to embrace whimsical, visual storytelling,” provides more insight into how businesses are successfully adding spark and excitement to their brands through visual storytelling. Check it out and contact us to talk more about how to attract and retain customers with location-based marketing.
One of the more interesting developments coming out of Google I/O 2017 is the way Google is improving its Google Home voice-activated speaker, which is powered by Google Assistant. Like every other player in the market for voice assistants, Google is chasing after Amazon, which dominates the market with Echo. Google’s strategy is to make Google Home as smarter and more versatile, especially with these features announced May 17:
- Proactive Assistance: with Proactive Assistance, Google Home updates you without your prompting. Here’s how it works: let’s say you have an appointment to get a car stereo installed at your local Best Buy, or you have tickets to see Father John Misty at the Chicago Theater. Google Home can alert you with reminders that your appointment or concert are coming up soon. Because Google Home is a smart device, it can also tell you about traffic conditions or changes in the weather that might affect the timing of your trip to Best Buy or the Chicago Theater.
- Visual Responses: through Visual Responses, Google Home allows you to integrate visual content along with voice. So perhaps you might want Google Home to display the route you’re going to take to Best Buy or the set list from Father John Misty’s most recent concert before you leave home or while you’re on the go. Visual Responses allows Google Home to perform those tasks by displaying the content on your phone or TV. The idea behind Visual Responses is to give you an alternative to managing information that is either too complicated for voice or is just better expressed visually.
Google is enhancing Google Home and Google Assistant in many other ways, as reported on Google’s blog. Essentially Google wants to broaden its reach across the omnichannel discovery ecosystem by building off its legacy understanding of search to create more ambient discovery experiences. Whether Google (or other tech giants like Apple) can catch up to Amazon remains to be seen, but the voice assistant arms race will make omnichannel discovery more useful to both consumers and businesses.
Businesses can thrive in this increasingly omnichannel world in a number of ways. As I have written in Search Engine Land, smart brands like Domino’s Pizza have been responding by making themselves more visible and useful regardless of what device or method that people use to find what they need. You can order a Domino’s pizza with voice commands, tweets, and a number of other ways.
Businesses also have an opportunity to get out in front of proactive discovery by figuring out how to be part of the conversation occurring on devices such as Google Home. Conceivably Best Buy could provide updates to its customers in the example I cited and provide other useful information, such as the availability of products in the store tailored to your purchase history.
As I wrote in Search Engine Land, “The next frontier of omnichannel discovery for businesses will involve using advanced analytics and consumer measurement tools to anticipate consumer discovery and either positioning themselves with the right solution before a search begins or pre-empting the search completely.”
The major data publishers such as Google are pushing us into a more proactive, multichannel experience. It’s up to you to keep up. If you would like to learn more, please contact us.
The war between Instagram and Snapchat is intensifying around location.
Josh Constine of TechCrunch has reported that Instagram is testing a feature known as Location Stories, which collects and shares public Instagram Stories content from Instagram’s 700 million users. As Constine writes, “Users can then visit that business, landmark or place’s Instagram page and watch a slideshow Story of posts from there shared by strangers they don’t follow.”
The testing of Location Stories builds upon features that Snapchat had introduced. For instance, in December, Instagram launched stickers that emulate Snapchat geofilters by making it possible for users to spice up their Instagram posts with content such as emoji and location names. Those stickers are crucial: Instagram is using the stickers as tags to create Location Stories. In doing so, Instagram has one-upped Snapchat. As Constine reports,
The closest thing Snapchat has is the new Stories Search feature it’s testing. But it relies on metadata, machine vision object recognition and the free-form text people add to Snaps to surface content. Instagram’s standardized location database that powers location stickers will make it easier to both add to a unified Location Story and watch them, too.
At the 2017 TechCrunch Disrupt NY event, Instagram’s head of product talked about Instagram’s heightened interest in location-based content. He described location pages as a “hidden gem” of Instagram. He said, “I think that over time, as people are tagging their Stories proactively, there’s an opportunity to aggregate content and find out what’s happening right now at the Eiffel Tower, what’s happening right now at your favorite restaurant.”
Instagram could monetize Location Stories in a number of ways. For instance, Instagram could allow businesses to place ads in Location Stories feeds just as they do already with Instagram Stories. Or Instagram could aggregate the images from Location Stories as data to give businesses (for a fee) better insight into customer behavior (similar to how Foursquare sells data to advertisers based on users’ foot traffic).
In any event, the news is another reminder to brick-and-mortar businesses to use visual storytelling more thoughtfully as a competitive asset. Businesses should treat their Instagram accounts as opportunities to create foot traffic and potential customers, not just places to build their visibility (although doing so is important). Instagram is but one platform for creating organic and paid content. Instagram Location Stories will help 700 million users do a better job drawing attention to their location and sharing cool things to do and see. Brands need to participate, too.
For the past few years, Google has urged businesses to respond to the rise of micro-moments, or instances when people use their mobile phones to find things to do and buy nearby. Google says the number of “near me” searches increased 34 times from 2011 to 2015 (when Google started discussing micro-moments). People who use their mobile devices to find things to do and buy nearby demonstrate strong purchase intent.
But ironically, it hasn’t always been easy to use Google on mobile devices to find events nearby. People looking for concerts, games, and other events are more likely to use Facebook or a ticket-selling site such as Ticketmaster. Google seeks to change that behavior by becoming the preferred tool to find events. On May 10, Google announced that it is updating its app to make it easier to find events nearby. Google has aggregated event data from event sites to present a clear view of nearby events for people doing queries for activities near them.
As Google Product Manager Nishant Ranka explained on Google’s Keyword blog, “[T]ype in a quick search like, ‘jazz concerts in Austin,’ or ‘art events this weekend’ on your phone. With a single tap, you’ll see at-a-glance details about various options, like the event title, date and time, and location. You can tap ‘more events’ to see additional options. Once you find one that’s up your alley, tap it to find more details or buy tickets directly from the website.”
The expanded functionality should certainly make it easier to find special events, but I suspect Google will pull from a wider range of sources than ticketing sites and dedicated event venues to return useful results. Someone looking for “music nearby” will likely turn up expensive or sold-out options for same-day events with especially popular musicians on Live Nation and Stub Hub.
If you operate a brick-and-mortar location that offers special events to attract customers, it behooves you to manage event-based attributes carefully by ensuring their accuracy and optimizing the information for search. Examples include:
- A restaurant that occasionally features music for special events such as Mother’s Day.
- A retailer that features in-store appearances, such as book stores that sponsor signings with famous authors or apparel stores that occasionally host appearances by fashion experts.
As I noted in a Search Engine Land column, Google increasingly returns search results by mining attributes. Attributes consist of descriptive content such as the services a business provides, payment methods accepted or the availability of free parking — details that may not apply to all businesses. Attributes are important because they can influence someone’s decision to visit you. A special event is an example.
I believe Google will mine more event-based attributes from locations that don’t always offer events. Doing so will give Google more sources to draw from and make its mobile app more useful for people looking for things to do nearby. To learn more about how to build your business with location marketing, contact us.
Mobile has reached a new milestone.
In 2016, mobile ad spend soared 77 percent, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Even more significantly, mobile spend accounts for more than half of all digital ad spend.
The most popular ad formats in Q42016 were, in order of popularity, search, banner, and video:
Randall, Rothenberg, president and CEO of the IAB, said, “Mobile fueled the internet economy in 2016, with advertisers showing their confidence in digital to achieve their marketing goals. This increasing commitment is a reflection of brands’ ongoing marketing shift from ‘mobile-first’ to ‘mobile-only’ in order to keep pace with today’s on-the-go consumers.”
This news underscores what we’ve known for some time: if you aren’t mobile, you don’t exist.
Consider some important realities as reported in analyst Mary Meeker’s most recent Internet Trends Report:
- Americans spend 87 hours a month browsing on their smartphones, compared to 34 hours on their desktops.
- Mobile accounts for 51 percent of the time we spend consuming digital media, compared to 42 percent for the desktop. In 2008, mobile accounted for 12 percent versus 80 percent for desktops.
Now consider purchase-related statistics courtesy of Google:
- 82 percent of smartphone users say they consult their phones on purchases they are about to make in the store.
Businesses with multiple locations should understand that mobile advertising statistics are a reflection of consumer behavior. Even if you don’t advertise, look at the implications of the big picture and:
- Make sure your content is optimized for a mobile experience. Google continues to reward mobile-first experiences in search results and punish sites that fail to respect the power of the mobile experience.
- Understand how your customer uses mobile in context of a broader omnichannel experience and ensure your content, data, and experiences create engagement at different points in the journey. A mobile experience with a brand on Facebook and a mobile experience with a brand on Snapchat are not necessarily the same.
- Create content that encourages next moments, or the action that occurs after someone finds you in a search. For instance, mobile wallet offers encourage consumers to come to your store as they’re on the go looking for things to do and buy.
- Share your data with the publishers and aggregators that distribute your information across the digital world where people conduct mobile searches. We call these companies “data amplifiers” because they are crucial to making your mobile identity visible.
What are you doing to win in a mobile-first world?
Google is casting its nets farther and wider to return search results — and consolidating those results more efficiently through entities. As I discuss in a new Search Engine Land column, an entity consists of a collection of information that Google reports about at topic in one convenient search result. Search for, say, “Starbucks near me,” and Google will pull information from the Starbucks corporate website, Google My Business pages, Yelp reviews, and many other sources to consolidate probable answers through an entity. Entities are becoming more important for a variety of reasons, among them the rise of voice search, which is making it possible for people to ask more complicated, detailed queries (e.g., “Where is there a Starbucks near a theater showing Logan?”) Google needs to draw from a deeper pool of information to return precise answers in a convenient knowledge graph. The rise of entities affects businesses in a number of ways, including the need to publish information across the digital world where Google retrieves information for entities. Check out my column to learn more, and contact us to discuss how we can improve your search marketing efforts.
On March 20, Foursquare officially unveiled Foursquare Analytics, which Foursquare describes as “Google Analytics, but for the real world.” Foursquare Analytics consists of a dashboard that businesses may use to better understand consumer behavior at brick-and-mortar locations. According to Mike Harkey, vice president of business development at Foursquare, the dashboard can help businesses ranging from retailers to restaurants improve their location marketing by getting insight such as why sales drop or increase in different locations and who their best customers are — all based on information that Foursquare collects from consumers’ smartphones as they check in and out of locations.
For example, Foursquare can tell TJ Maxx that 5 percent of the retailer’s shoppers visit TJ Maxx locations about every other week, and eight out of 10 shoppers visited TJ Maxx two times or more in the past 12 months. The high-frequency shoppers were responsible for 40 percent of TJ Maxx’s foot traffic in February, which represented a 30 percent increase over February 2016. Foursquare has been working with businesses such as Equinox, H&M, Taco Bell, and TGI Fridays to test the dashboard.
Our take: the rollout of Foursquare Analytics is not surprising. The only real surprise is that Foursquare didn’t launch the dashboard sooner. Foursquare has been actively mining its 93 million mapped locations to position itself as a location data powerhouse to businesses for the past few years. For example, in 2015, Foursquare launched Pinpoint, which uses consumers’ location data to help businesses create more targeted advertising to consumers. Among many other developments, Foursquare has also developed relationships with businesses such as OpenTable and Uber to make it easier for users of those apps to book rides and dinner reservations with businesses that are on Foursquare.
Foursquare is one of the “data amplifiers,” a term that SIM Partners coined to describe the data aggregators (such as Acxiom, Factual, Infogroup, and Neustar) and publishers (such as Apple, Bing, Foursquare, Google, and Yelp) that share a business’s location data across the digital world, where people conduct “near me” searches. As noted in a recent Search Engine Land column, data amplifiers are important to any business with a brick-and-mortar location because amplifiers wield a disproportionate amount of influence. When a data amplifier such as Foursquare possesses accurate location data for your business, you enjoy a ripple effect as Foursquare shares your data with more customers than a second-tier directory could ever reach.
Our advice to brands: invest your time and effort building relationships with data amplifiers instead of paying to have your location data directly managed on tier-two directories. Foursquare is one of those amplifiers. Clearly, its future is not about check-ins but about data. SIM Partners maintains relationships with all data amplifiers. We are in a position to help you publish data more efficiently on these platforms. Contact us to get started.
When consumers visit a company’s business locator, chances are they are already interesting in becoming customers. And yet too many brands fail to convert that interest into revenue. The sins of bad locators are many: they’re often loaded with extraneous details that distract users, they don’t include enough useful information about hours and directions, and they fail to optimize content for mobile. By treating business locators as revenue generators, brands can make them more user friendly experiences that encourage a path to purchase. My new column for Search Engine Land, “10 Ways to Improve Your Business Locators,” provides practical tips for wringing more value out of locators. Check it out and contact us to discuss how we can help you.
On February 28, the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud-computing platform experienced a service interruption for four hours — an event that disrupted the performance of some well known businesses such as Buzzfeed, Netflix, Pinterest, Quora, Slack, and Spotify. AWS over the past 10 years has become a vital part of the Web. More than 148,000 websites as well as thousands of apps and devices rely on AWS to help them manage their infrastructure by storing critical assets on the AWS cloud. When AWS went down, its clients experienced problems ranging from slow processing time to outages. Because AWS’s clients include so many high-profile brands with substantial web traffic, a bad day for AWS meant it was lights-out time for everyone Slacking, taking Buzzfeed quizzes, listening to music on Spotify, and binge watching on Netflix.
Businesses scrambled to notify their users about what had happened and to keep them up to date as best they could. In reality, AWS clients — including Amazon itself — were powerless to do anything until AWS recovered.
SIM Partners also relies on AWS to support our client service through our Velocity and Velocity Health platforms. Like many businesses, we find it more cost-effective and practical to rely on the cloud to store the myriad assets that Velocity and Velocity Health use in order to manage the complexities of location marketing for businesses that operate hundreds and thousands of brick-and-mortar locations. But when AWS went down, fortunately we were not one of the AWS clients that experienced a service lapse. In fact, for SIM Partners, February 28 was a routine day free of interruptions.
But why? Because we planned for the unexpected. We’ve built security safeguards into Velocity and Velocity Health and have developed a level of service redundancy to ensure that the needs of our clients are not compromised. And we have to. For our healthcare clients, patient access to healthcare systems is at stake. And our clients in other industries count on us to support countless dollars in revenue generation by managing their digital brands across multiple platforms and channels. So we have to plan for the worst. Consequently, we experienced zero interruptions on the day of the great outage.
If you work with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider, now is a good time to check their protocols and approach for protecting the integrity of their service. If you are considering a partnership with a SaaS vendor, make sure they walk you through their process for anticipating and managing disruptive events.
Your brand depends on how well we manage the unexpected.
Google has made Google Maps more personal and social.
In a recently published blog post, Google announced that users can save locations to personalized lists and share those lists with others through social networks, email, and messaging apps. For example, someone planning a trip to the SxSW festival in Austin might want to create an “Austin Night Life” and “Austin BBQ Joints” list and store Google Maps destinations ahead of their visit for easy access when exploring the city during the event. The lists could be stored offline if needed and shared with other friends attending SxSW to do some planning together.
Our take: this development underscores why it’s so important for businesses with brick-and-mortar locations to manage their location data and content effectively. Businesses that maintain accurate location data and compelling content will enjoy a multiplier effect when someone shares the business’s information with other users through social and messaging apps. But businesses that do a poor job managing their online identity will pay for their lack of attention many times over.
- Make sure you claim and optimize your Google listing via Google My Business.
- Ensure your location data is correct.
- Include quality photos that encourage people to visit your location. (Per Google, “Businesses with recent photos typically receive more clicks to their websites.”)
It’s also interesting to speculate what this development means to the future of Google Maps. I would not be surprised if Google eventually incorporates into its ranking algorithms information about businesses stored in personal lists as well as titles of personal lists, thus putting more power into the hands of users. It’s also not unreasonable for Google to use personal lists to suggest things to do and places to go, akin to a vacation suggestion via algorithm. Or, Google could repurpose list data for its Google destinations product. After all, we know two things with certainty about Google:
- Google wants to create an end-to-end experience that keeps users on Google.
- User data is king. Google is always looking for ways to put user data to work. And personal lists are a treasure trove of user preferences based on data.
Whatever happens down the road, brands can prepare themselves by getting the basics of local data and content management right. Contact us to discuss how we can help you.